Latimer: Telomere test offers genetic code insights

Telomeres are part of our genetic code—often likened to the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces.

Do you know whether or not you have short telomeres?

Strange question, but knowing the answer may provide some insight into the state of your health or your risk of developing certain health problems in the future.

Telomeres are part of our genetic code—often likened to the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces.

They seem to protect the ends of chromosomes and keep cells from aging too quickly.

Each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter and once they are too short, the cell can no longer divide.

In healthy cells, telomeres also rebuild.

Many studies have linked unusually short telomeres to health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic stress.

Now, one of the world’s foremost experts in the field has created a test to measure people’s telomeres—and it will likely be available to the public sometime this year.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn is a researcher at the University of California in San Francisco. She won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2009 for her work on telomeres.

As scientific understanding around telomeres and their links to health issues has increased, there has been some demand for a test to measure them.

Dr. Blackburn has developed such a test and also founded a company to market it.

Some in the research community doubt the usefulness of measuring telomeres because it is not a test for a specific health issue or disease.

In spite of these critiques, Dr. Blackburn believes the test could be a useful tool for patients and doctors alike—comparing it to a check engine light in a vehicle.

If your test showed you had shorter than normal telomeres, it may warrant doing some other medical investigating and could be an indicator that some preventive measures are needed.

Healthy cells restore their own telomeres with the enzyme telomerase and there may be ways to increase its action in the cell.

Some preventive measures such as exercise, healthy food choices, losing excess weight and reducing stress could help to prevent telomeres from getting shorter or even restore those that have already declined.

More studies continue into the connections between telomeres and mental and physical health and may prove more concrete cause and effect relationships.

Meantime, there will be a test on the market soon. For a few hundred dollars, interested people could learn the answer to the strange question of whether they have short or long telomeres.

Maybe this will not be a specific predictor of disease or length of life, but a telomere test could be part of a larger health picture and may move us further along the way to preventive health care rather than simply interventional health care.

Just Posted

Lightning strikes West Kelowna condo

Fire crews were called to a building on Carrington Road Tuesday night

UPDATE: Smoke rising from Okanagan Mountain Park hills

Lightning may have sparked a fire in the hills across from Peachland

Lightning strikes across B.C. Interior

Residents are being asked to go inside until last rumble of thunder

Update: Lightning sparks blaze above Summerland

Firefighters are battling the small fire from the area that occurred Tuesday shortly after 7 p.m.

UPDATE: Crews battle wildfire near Big White Road

Joe Rich Fire Department responding alongside Big White Fire Department and provincial crews.

Trudeau asks transport minister to tackle Greyhound’s western pullout

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s asked Transport Minister Marc Garneau to find solutions in Greyhound Canada’s absence.

Lightning sparks wildfires in Vernon

Tuesday night storm causes wildfire in BX and residential fire in East Hill

Crash closes Highway 5A in both directions

A collision has shut down Highway 5A about 22 kilometres south of the junction with Highway 97C

Hub for mental health and addictions treatment opens at B.C. hospital

St. Paul’s Hospital HUB is an acute medical unit that includes 10 patient beds

Pike Mountain fire continues to grow – quadruples in 24 hours

Fire threatens area consumed in 2017 by a 3,500 hectare blaze

Vernon Knights hire Van Horlick

New head coach of Junior B franchise in Armstrong

St. Albert knocks down Canadians

Finals of Valley of the Champions

Restaurant Brands International to review policy over poaching employees

One of Canada’s largest fast-food company to review ‘no-poach’ franchise agreements

Calgary family’s vacation ends in tragedy on Texas highway

Three people died and four others were injured in the crash

Most Read